Tag Archives: The Sex Pistols

Images Of England Through Popular Music

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Images Of England Through Popular Music –
Class,Youth and Rock’n’Roll, 1955-1976
By Keith Gildart
Palgrave Macmillan – £15.99

[…] the Sex Pistols themselves were the personification of particular aspects of Englishness that could be found in working-class radicalism, humour and populism. They shared Orwell’s view that England remained ‘a land of snobbery and privilege, ruled largely by the old and the silly.’

The tension of class, authenticity, stardom and recognition were a constant source of tension between Lennon and McCartney in their formative years and throughout their subsequent career.

And so it came to pass that popular music as we once knew it turned into huge, regular dollops, of mere money-spinning horse manure.

Where once upon a time England actually had exciting, rebellious, inventive artists and rock’n’roll bands (The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie among many others), we now have far too many wailing tarts with microphones of whom all rather fancy themselves as Etta James; but are in fact, pure hogwash of the first degree (the ghastly Pixie Lott of whom, surely wails at the vanguard).

In essence, the country no longer has a music industry any more.

That there are but three main record companies left in London (Universal, Sony and Warner) should come as no surprise. They all subscribe subscribe to the ideology of Satan himself, Simon Cowell – which is to say, here today, gone tomorrow, who gives a toss about what it sounds like, so long as it generates money – and they all behave in such a way that is detrimental to music as we once knew. As depicted in this very readable book by Keith Gildart.

Its eight chapters capture something of a magical, bygone period in British music, a time when artists and bands weren’t being groomed by accountants, but by musical instinct (and in some instances, intellect).

Indeed, Images Of England Through Popular Music – Class,Youth and Rock’n’Roll, 1955-1976, not only traverses the musicality of said time period, but also the degree to which class and geography played a part: ”In the post-war period, North West England in particular became closely associated with popular music and produced a multiplicity of groups and solo artists. Some performers retained particularly northern traits in terms of accent, style, humour and an identification with the broader working-class that purchased their records and danced to their rhythms (‘Coal, Cotton and Rock’n’Roll’).

In three parts (‘Teddy Boy England,’ ‘Mod England’ and Glam/Punk England’), the book as a whole casts an intrinsically ideological net, which goes some way in deciphering how and why things came about the way they did.

A good example being John Lennon’s position within all of this, as addressed in the chapter ‘Liverpool, The Beatles and Cultural Politics: ”Lennon’s ambiguous position within the class structure of Liverpool was familiar to a generation of working and lower-middle class children who experienced social mobility through eduction, but retained an affiliation to aspects of working-class structure. His rebelliousness was rooted in his negative reaction to formal schooling and the class nature of the English education system […]. The division between rock’n’roll and jazz was demarcated through class lines in Liverpool and other English towns and cities. Some writers have tended to focus on Lennon’s art school experiences as his entry point into the more esoteric elements of American rock’n’roll […]. Yet they underestimate the resilience of class and locality in the roots of English popular music. Lennon personified the complexity of class identity with his bridging of both working and middle-class cultures.”

To say the above is a mere tip of the literary dissertation that this most worthy critique of (English) youth culture has to offer, is an understatement.

The more it unfolds, the more one is compelled to both read and investigate ever further.

David Marx

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Reckless

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Reckless – My Life
By Chrissie Hynde
Ebury Press -£20.00

After writing a song there’s first a feeling of elation followed by the sinking feeling that it will never happen again, and you go back to thinking that you can’t do it. It creates an ongoing feeling of inadequacy. 

And in the end, this is a story of drug abuse.

So yeah, Chrissie Hynde: cool and collected and suave and unintentionally sophisticated (in a loose and lazy, inebriated sort of way). Have always been attracted to her work, ever since first hearing her all too fab rendition of The Kinks’ ‘I Go To Sleep’ whilst living in London’s Maida Vale. Might this be due to her understated vocal delivery? Or might it be due to the fact that she always wore what seemed like a man’s suit jacket – while fronting The Pretenders? Either way, Hynde was always very Keef-esque; which, given that rock’n’roll is a predominantly, über male domain, isn’t something to be taken all too lightly.

 But I have to say, Reckless is a horrible disappointment. Surprisingly so, given her high pedigree; not to mention that she’s been around a while and therefore knows so many people. That she was mates with The Sex Pistols, Johnny Thunders and The Clash alone, ought to have made for (far more) inviting, interesting reading.

Yet most of this book is a predictable and chronological assessment of Hynde’s early years, which, apart from lending a candid, first-hand account of early sixties America, is nothing other than a sordid foray unto the rather dismal world of alcoholism and drugs: ”Who would have thought that rock and roll could be even slightly complicated? We are, after all, talking about three lousy chords played by high-school drop outs. But the complications are life threatening.

Alcohol poisoning: every band has gone on stage shaking after barely being able to stand up to do the soundcheck. You can see pictures of the gods of rock reduced to mere mortals, passed out on flight cases daily. There is nothing quite like the look of desperation and fear exchanged at the side of the stage before the lights go down, with the whole band undergoing the shared experience of total alcohol meltdown. ”Can we do this?”” (from the later chapter, ‘Pretenders’).

That said, there’s very little of Reckless that is actually devoted to The Pretenders, which at the end of the day, is what I (and I should imagine most people) wanted to read about. Other than the futile and seemingly pathetic deaths of guitarist James Honeymoon-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon (who, during the early formation of the band, dated Hynde), there really is not a lot. Alas, the second opening quote says it all really.

As mentioned, there’s the inevitable insight into American society:

”A suffocating cloak of isolation was enveloping America. Only the destination places – cultural centres you’d visit or pass through like Chicago, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco or Seattle – still functioned, with thriving downtowns, defying the seclusion that was spreading like molten lava […]. No one wanted to share their space with strangers.Heaven forbid they might not even be white. Although no one would have openly admitted it, racial mixing ‘which was inevitable’ was a cultural conundrum, to put it mildly” (‘Walk, Don’t Run’);

along with American sexuality by way of the sixties and its introduction of the Pill:

”The most potent factor in the sixties’ descent into chaos was the birth-control pill. Never mind LSD – a passing fad -the pill was king, and like Cher it needed no second name. The pill was changing society beyond recognition, with the entire family structure about to alter unrecognisably. Sex was becoming a recreational lifestyle choice. If you were to mention the word ‘procreation’ you’d probably get thrown out of any protest, commune or crash pad for being a bummer. Only a straight person would think like that” (‘WHLO Appreciation Day’);

but very little insight into anything, or anyone, of any potent significance.

The chapter on Lemmy doesn’t really say anything we don’t already know (him being a huge Beatles fan for instance).

Reckless ought to have been, and could so easily have been, a terrific book. Sadly, it’s a morose and rather morbid book: ”As far as rock bands went, it was all textbook stuff. But the fact that everybody in every band in history had gone through the same things didn’t make it any easier to assimilate the horror show of drug addiction. Alcohol was always in the mix too, the lethal ingredient, portal to the dark side, ever-lurking. The only reason we were still standing was that we had youth on our side. But as always, time was running out” (‘The Last Show’).

Think Chrissie needs to take heed of some of the actual joy of rock’n’roll, as opposed to its potentially dark, distant cousin, that is the darkness.

David Marx

Popular Music & Society

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Popular Music & Society
By Brian Longhurst & Danijela Bogdanovic
Polity – £18.99

As the title of this rather encyclopedic and exceedingly well researched book might suggest, popular music does indeed have a colossal effect on society – just as society has an equally enormous effect on popular music. Be it the manifestation of the blues by way of extreme poverty in America’s deep-south during the 1920s and 30s, the questionably wayward, raucous nihilism of the Sex Pistols much needed musical mayhem around the time of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, or the acute pertinence of hopelessness and unemployment as depicted in The Specials’ 1981 hit, ‘Ghost Town.’

To be sure, society has never ceased to influence the arts. One could in fact, go as far as to say that one invariably needs the other – even if for its mere continuance.

Either way, Popular Music & Society is an altogether monumental dissertation on the subject, especially in relation to the ever increasing importance of current day media; not to mention the sonorous trajectory if its all encompassing influence. It is as Helen Thomas of the University of the Arts, London, states on the back cover: ”This third edition […] offers a comprehensive updated sociological analysis of the field of popular music which incorporates media and cultural studies into its frame. It reflects backward and telegraphs forward the key theories, approaches, analysis and criticisms that abound in the field.”

Covering nigh every area within the parameters of popular music and society, authors Brian Longhurst and Danijela Bogdanovic write with an unquestionably, understated enthusiasm. A quality, not only apparent from the very outset of the book, but one which thankfully remains in place right to the very end.

I use the word thankfully, because given the occasional scientific design of their investigation, said enthusiasm is a fundamental quality which bequeaths these 276 pages (excluding Figures, Tables, Boxes, Further Reading, References and Index) with a most profound, if not plausible readability: ”In broad terms, there are two main ways in which popular music has been written about academically, journalistically and by enthusiasts: in a critical mode and in a celebratory mode. Each of these modes has a ‘political’ and an ‘aesthetic’ dimension, which are sometimes linked together or conflated. The critical mode is against popular music (or indeed popular culture) in two main ways, therefore. For example, it can be seem as a form of commercial activity that is about selling forms of music for profit, or it is seen as having regressive ideas about ‘race’ or ‘gender’ in it. Moreover, in the ‘aesthetic’ mode, the music can be seen as ‘rubbish,’ poor art, trite, and so on. This sort of critique has been developed in very sophisticated ways by authors such as Adorno, and this is considered at some length […], but it is also familiar in other forms of writing.”

Indeed, as a member of the Frankfurt School of theorists and writers – founded at the University of Frankfurt in 1923 (where said writers developed a critical theory as an attempt to further social change from the standpoint of Marxist ideology within the structure of society) – it should go without saying that the sections of Popular Music & Society that oft refer to Adorno alone, make for more than provocative and stimulating reading. An essence, which in this day and age of celebrity obsessed folly, is resoundingly refreshing to say the least.

After all, ”the celebratory mode is, in effect, the mirror image of the critical.”

David Marx

Holocaust Impiety In Literature, Popular Music and Film

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Holocaust Impiety In Literature, Popular Music and Film
By Matthew Boswell
Palgrave Macmillan – £53.00

This book is so very readable, it’s a shame its subject matter relates to that of such a dark and occassionally depressive persuasion. But might this in itself, account for Matthew Boswell having written a truly tremendous book? For if one can write on the trajectory of the Holocaust in such a refreshing and stimulating manner, one is obviously doing something very right, right?

Holocaust Impiety in Literature, Popular Music and Film, is, as it’s title suggests, a provocative and at times, quasi-controversial account of how the Holocaust has been represented through the arts. Be it Quenton Tarantino’s film Inglorious Basterds, The Sex Pistols song ‘Belsen Was A Gas’ or Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Daddy,’ Boswell argues that ”while such works are oftetn shocking, the value of shock should not be lightly dismissed in the context of the Holocaust.

Broken into three parts (Poetry, Popular Music and Film), each of this book’s ten chapters resonates with something exceedingly powerful and provocative.

That (good) poetry is usually already both, allows it as a genre at least, the potential to cast a far more poignant dye by the mere essence of its actual execution. To say nothing of its subtlety and intelligence. The latter of which is particularly brought to bear in Chapter Two (W.D. Snodgrass, ‘The Fuehrer Bunker’) wherein Boswell philosophically writes: ”’Mother Teresa, asked when it was she started her work for abandoned children, replied, ”On the day I discovered I had a Hitler inside me.” This reference to the self-acknowledged capacity for evildoing of Mother Theresa ushers the reader away from an attitude of moral complacency. The epigraph also attacks postwar triumphalism and self-righteousness of America’s demonisation of the German nation; for much as one might wish to condemn the popular support the German public gave to the Nazis before they came to power and the subsequent lack of organised opposition to a bellicose regime, one does so with the benefit of hindsight.”

This is further substantiated when Boswell goes on to quote Snodgrass in reference to Randall Jarrell’s poem ‘Protocols,’ in which dead children desribe their journey to Birkenau, where they were murdered in gas chambers:

”To write this poem, you must first be willing to imagine yourself as a child in the situation – a real child, who might even enjoy parts of the trip. Then, you must be willing to imagine yourself a guard – this is the real test – and see how you would act. You must admit that moral weakness could lead you into such a position, could at least strongly tempt you. Until you are willing to admit that you share some part of humanity’s baseness and degredation, you cannot write about humanity’s dignity and gentleness. Of all the ulterior motives, none is more common, none more debilitating, none more damning, than the pretense to moral superiority.”

If nothing else, the above poses a considerable moral dilemma, especially where Snodgrass talks about imagining the situation as ”a real child” and ”the pretense to moral superiority.” This example – and believe me there are countless others throughout Holocaust Impiety – makes this book very much worth reading alone. Although this is further enhanced in the second part on Popular Music where (at the very outset), in relation to the fusion of the Holocaust and Punk Rock, the author writes: ”While the various punk responses to the Holocaust range from the mocking to the shocking to the world-rocking, as in the impulse to identify with the oppresors, each is in its own way an attempt to deal with this tragedy that affected punk’s lives whether they liked to admit it or not. No Holocaust, no punk.”

As a fan of the New York punk band The Ramones, I was more than interested to read the chapter entitled ‘American Punk: Ramones,’ wherein Boswell reveals: ”[…] the Ramones’ eponymous first album opens with the shouty stomp’Blitzkrieg Bop’ and closes with ‘TodayYour Love,Tomorrow the World,’ in which the Jewish Joey Ramone sings about being an SS man while the child of a family of Holocaust victims plays drums. Pounding to the beat of falling bombs, the half-Jewish, half-none Jewish Ramones encapsulate the dived nature of American punk’s preoccupation with the Holocaust. In an interview,Tommy Ramone once said, ‘most of my family was murdered in the Holocaust. I am barely here.’ On the other hand, Dee Dee never grew out of his childhood obsession with the battlefields of Germany and the remnants of war […].”

That Holocaust Impiety in Literature, Popular Music and Film approaches the on-going debate on the Holocaust from an array of (relatively) modern-day perspectives, accounts for making it so much more than an important and very stimulating read. That the book also draws on the philosopher Gillian Rose’s criticisms of what she termed ‘Holocaust piety’ and its claim that the only possible response to the Holocaust ‘is a respectful silence,’ is, as stated on the back cover, tantamount within the philosophical parameters of even trying to come to terms: ”[…] this book considers how irreverent works of fiction play an important role in shaping our contemporary understanding of the Nazi genocide and also of ourselves, prompting us to reflect on what it means to be human in light of the tragic events they reference.”

David Marx